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Practical tips for a healthier 2013

Small changes can lead to a better lifestyle

We want to lose weight. Be happier. Eat better. Quit smoking.

Nearly half of us will make New Year’s resolutions this year and, while we may be setting laudable and healthy goals, many of us will be doomed to fail.

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But, experts say, there are ways to ensure success.

The key is to stop thinking in terms of “resolution” and reframe the goal as a journey — a lasting lifestyle change that can be accomplished through specific steps.

Too often, resolutions are framed in terms of black and white, said Dr. Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist and licensed marriage and family therapist.

“A typical New Year’s resolution is so linear: To do more of something or do less of something,” Ruskin said. “That’s why it’s not long-term attainable — the moment you stop doing the ‘that’ you wish to do more or less of, you feel like you’ve failed and you give up.”

Resolutions are often vague, and lack actionable steps. And they can place an artificial time limit on making permanent change, said Dr. Suzanne Koven, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

So rather than simply resolving to be healthier this year, take some tips from experts on how to have a healthier 2013 — and beyond.

MAKE A PLAN, AND BE KIND TO YOURSELF

According to Dr. Karen Ruskin, a “resolution” will only be successful if you identify exactly what it is you want to change and why, and think of it in terms of a healthier overall lifestyle. Here are her tips to help you reach your goals:

Identify a specific change

“You should ask yourself, ‘What do I actually wish to improve upon’ so you have clarity,” Ruskin said.

Your goal can be about your relationships with other people, or something you want to improve within yourself.

“Sometimes it might be about a healthier lifestyle in terms of food, or going back to school,” Ruskin said. For some it might be getting a promotion at work, or being more considerate of your spouse or being more patient with your children. But the idea is to figure out exactly what it is you want to change, then plotting specific steps.

Ask yourself: What is one step I can take today?

You’re not going to write that novel in one sitting. But maybe today you’ll write one paragraph, work on an outline, or simply spend some time thinking about it. Or you may choose to give yourself the day off. But asking yourself what you might do – rather than telling yourself – is a more gentle way to help you reach your goal.

Give yourself positive feedback

Whether it’s a verbal pat on the back, or a smiley face sticker on a calendar (yes, even for adults!), it’s important to give ourselves credit for progress that we make.

“What we say to ourselves effects our mood. We are more likely to achieve our goals if we are kind to ourselves, instead of being angry,” Ruskin said.

Re-Evaluate

Periodically, you should evaluate your progress and decide whether you want to continue working toward the same goal. Sometimes, you may want to shift to something else, or make some tweaks to your goal. “If we are constantly checking in, we are constantly improving,” Ruskin said.

GET FIT BY DOING LESS

Instead of completely overhauling your diet and exercise plan, or resolving to vaguely work out more to get in better shape this year, I challenge you to do less! Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

The ability to sustain change significantly decreases when you try to develop too many new habits at once. So this year, establish one ultimate long-term goal, and then adopt a new small change each month that will lead you to your goal.

For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds of fat by the end of 2013, in January you might start with a goal of exercising 10 times this month, which comes out to roughly twice a week. Once that behavior becomes a habit, then you layer on something else the next month.

In February you’d still keep up the 10 workouts, but also establish a new action, like having a cup of vegetables with each meal. So as March rolls around, you’ve exercised 20 times over the past two months, and getting those veggies in has become second nature.

Next, you might be ready to walk the several flights of stairs each day to your office instead of taking the elevator.

Before you know it, you’ve developed all these wonderful habits that have become ingrained in your behaviors and will lead you to more meaningful and permanent lifestyle changes. Allowing yourself to really focus on and master one change at a time will help you adhere to your plan and achieve your goal. - RYAN HEALY, TRAINER

MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME WITH YOUR DOCTOR

Feel rushed at your medical appointments? So does your doctor. Still, doctors should try to focus on the health issues that concern you most, but we need your help. Here are five important questions that doctors may not address unless patients bring them up. Asking these questions could have a big impact on your health this year.

Do I need any vaccines?

Shots are often the main event at a visit to the pediatrician, but doctors for adults sometimes forget even to mention them. An annual flu shot, a tetanus/whooping cough vaccine every 10 years, and, for certain people, vaccines for shingles, pneumonia, hepatitis, meningitis, and other conditions should be considered.

Why can’t I sleep?

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep are common. Poor or inadequate sleep can contribute to chronic fatigue, obesity, and even heart disease. People shouldn’t just assume that they are “bad sleepers.” Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other disorders are treatable.

Is there a cheaper version of this medicine?

If you leave prescriptions unfilled, or you try to stretch out your supply by splitting or skipping doses, ask if a less expensive option is available. Doctors don’t keep good track of medication costs and know even less about which insurance company covers what drug.

Does that disease run in families?

You’ll likely be asked about your family’s medical history at your first visit, but may not be asked for updates later on. Colon, breast, and ovarian cancers as well as diabetes, depression, thyroid disease, certain forms of anemia and arthritis, heart disease, and stroke are only a few of the diseases that cluster in families. If a relative, especially your parent, sibling, or child, develops a new illness, let your doctor know.

Can I ask you about this thing that’s kind of embarrassing?

Whether its a sexual problem, a phobia, or a discharge, tic, or mole that you’re just not sure is normal, you should feel free to ask your doctor about it. If not, find a new doctor. - DR. SUZANNE KOVEN

DITCH THE FAD DIETS AND MAKE THESE LONGTERM CHANGES INSTEAD

If you want to lose weight, increase your longevity, lower you blood pressure, and fight heart disease and diabetes in the New Year, here are five tips on what and how to eat every time you sit down to a meal.

Load Up on Veggies and Fruit

One of the best strategies for losing weight is to make sure that half your plate is loaded with low calorie, high-volume veggies and fruit to crowd out more calorically dense foods such as fatty meats and fried foods. If you do this daily, you could be a smaller size by spring.

Go for the Whole Grains

Research suggests that a healthy diet that contains high fiber, nutrient- and phytochemical-rich whole grains can help fight against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Choose whole grain cereal and oats in the morning, whole wheat bread at lunch, and quick-cook brown rice, whole-grain couscous, or whole-grain pasta at dinner. But you still need to make sure that only about ¼ of your plate is devoted to grains in order to control calories.

Eat Fish for Longevity

Want to live longer? Studies show that consuming 8 ounces of fish weekly, especially omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish such as salmon and sardines, can reduce the risk of heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, slow the accumulation of artery-clogging plague, and even slightly lower high blood pressure. Consider having at least two 4-ounce fish meals weekly.

Drink Your Milk

Nonfat and low fat milk and yogurt are not only excellent sources of bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D but also potassium, which can help prevent high blood pressure. To meet the recommended three servings of dairy daily, add low fat milk to your morning java, add a slice of reduced-fat cheese to your lunchtime sandwich, and reach for a vitamin D fortified nonfat yogurt for a daily snack.

Eat Off a Smaller Plate at Dinner

The size of the standard dinner plate has increased 22 percent in diameter, from about 10 inches in 1900 to almost 12 inches in 2010. Let’s face it: the bigger the plate, the more you will eat. Join the Smaller Plate Movement and commit to eating off 9- to 10-inch diameter plate at your largest meal of the day. Do this for a month and you will be shocked as to how effective this small change can make in shrinking your waist. — JOAN SALGE BLAKE, NUTRITIONIST

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